Behind The Scenes

Barack-etology producer, Denny Wolfe, gets second opportunity for first visit to White House

ESPN's Andy Katz with President Barack Obama (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
ESPN’s Andy Katz with President Barack Obama. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Who says you never get a second chance to make a first impression? A year ago, ESPN features unit manager Denny Wolfe was scheduled to be a producer for President Barack Obama’s now-annual bracket completion exercise with senior writer Andy Katz. But a 2012 Selection Sunday hockey game left Wolfe with a concussion and strict orders from his wife and his coordinating producer not to travel.

“I didn’t know if I’d get another chance to do it or even if President Obama would choose to do it again if re-elected,” said Wolfe.

Yesterday, Wolfe, 38, got his answer in the form of a second chance to produce what has become known as “Barack-etology” when he travelled to Washington, D.C. to oversee the fifth year of men’s and women’s P.O.T.U.S. picks.

Front Row caught up with Wolfe to discuss the experience.
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Turning around “Barack-etology” in less than 24 hours: How President Obama’s bracket picks got from D.C. to Bristol

PROGRAMMING NOTE: A behind-the-scenes special on the journey, “Tournament Countdown: Barack-etology,” airs today on ESPNU at 5:30 p.m. ET

Production: “Due to concerns with potential weather in Connecticut, we decided to edit the segments at DC Collective in Silver Spring, Maryland,” Wolfe said. “We arrived at the facility at 6:15 p.m. and left at 8 a.m. this morning.”

Segments produced: A full-length five-minute segment for SportsCenter and our digital platform for today; A one minute teaser for last night’s 11 p.m. SportsCenter; A full copy of the shoot for tonight’s special; Footage for ABC, including a Good Morning America segment.

Video gathered: 80 minutes of footage on four cameras

ESPN people on the shoot: 10 in addition to Wolfe, including Katz, associate producer Mike O’Connor, features producer Tina Cerbone and associate producer Lauren Stowell, Jade Hoye for the behind-the-scenes content, three camera operators, an audio technician and an assistant.


What was it like to be in the White House for a shoot?
It was as cool as I expected. It was surreal to see chairs that George Washington had and be that close to American history. The entire place is such an amazing working machine of people who work there every day. I had never been there before, and I came away very impressed by every staff member and the supreme level of professionalism each one brought to their jobs.

President Barack Obama with Andy Katz (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Will President Barack Obama still be smiling about his picks on April 8? (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Where would this rank among events you have been able to produce over your 15 years at ESPN?
It ranks right up there with those cool moments that made me want to get into this business in the first place.

My bucket list was really small when I started at ESPN. I grew up outside of Pittsburgh and hoped to meet my childhood idol, Mario Lemieux. I actually got to interview him twice.

Since then, I’ve met many great athletes and been able to tell many interesting stories. I worked on a Make-a-Wish feature with Wayne Gretzky, shot a story with LaDainian Tomlinson four days after he set the single-season touchdown record and travelled to Greece and followed Josh Childress when he played for Olympiacos in Athens. I saw a stealth bomber fly over the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, walked on the field to get interviews after the Saints won the Super Bowl, saw Shaquille O’Neal work his magic with the crowd on-stage as guest conductor for the Boston Pops and worked with Andy Garcia, one of my favorite actors, when he did the voice-over work for the Super Bowl tease I wrote for Sunday NFL Countdown a few years ago.

So, I look at this list and add President Obama to it. . . and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten a chance to do the things I have after starting out with pretty humble goals.

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